Republican Michael Brown withdraws from governor race after petition forgery report

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Republican Michael Brown, one of five candidates caught up in a wave of reportedly fraudulent petition signatures, withdrew Tuesday morning from the race to be Michigan's next governor.

Brown, a captain with the Michigan State Police, became the first candidate to end a bid for governor after the Bureau of Elections said on Monday night that five GOP hopefuls failed to submit enough valid signatures to make the Aug. 2 primary ballot.

Republican Michael Brown, a candidate for governor, submits his petition signatures in Lansing on Tuesday, April 12, 2022.

"It appears that after my campaign's signature gathering was complete, individuals independently contracted for a portion of our signature gathering and validation jumped onto other campaigns and went on a money grab," Brown said in a statement. "They were involved in allegedly fraudulent signature gathering activities with these campaigns causing the Michigan Bureau of Elections to declare all of the signatures connected to those individuals as invalid.

"I cannot and will not be associated with this activity."

On Monday evening, the bureau released its reviews of candidates' petitions, finding that five of the 10 Republican candidates for governor didn't submit the required 15,000 valid signatures. Those the bureau said were ineligible for the primary ballot included former Detroit police Chief James Craig and self-funding businessman Perry Johnson of Bloomfield Hills.

Craig and Johnson were widely viewed as two of the top candidates in the race for the GOP nomination.

In a staff report, the bureau said it had tracked 36 petition circulators "who submitted fraudulent petition sheets consisting entirely of invalid signatures."

"In total, the bureau estimates that these circulators submitted at least 68,000 invalid signatures submitted across 10 sets of nominating petitions," the report said. "In several instances, the number of invalid signatures submitted by these circulators was the reason a candidate had an insufficient number of valid signatures."

Brown's campaign turned in 20,900 petition signatures. But the Bureau of Elections found only 7,091 of them were facially valid. About 13,800 of them were on "sheets submitted by fraudulent petition circulators."

"These circulators submitted signatures with the same patterns consistent with other filings," the bureau wrote in its review of Brown's signatures. "For example, several signatures were clearly signed in the same hand."

The Board of State Canvassers will meet Thursday to consider the bureau's findings. A candidate deemed ineligible for the ballot could challenge the matter in court.

Johnson's campaign has already indicated it will fight the bureau's conclusions.

Craig's campaign hadn't provided a response to The Detroit News as of Tuesday morning. Two other candidates, entrepreneur Donna Brandenburg of Byron Center and financial adviser Michael Markey of Grand Haven, were also found to have submitted insufficient signatures.

In an interview, Brown said his campaign contracted with a consulting firm for a portion of its signatures. Circulators' "incompetence" had cost the campaign, Brown said.

"I am not going to be a party to those actions of circulators that did allegedly fraudulent things on other people's campaigns but affected my campaign," Brown said.

The five candidates who would remain in the race for governor if the bureau's findings are upheld are businesswoman and conservative commentator Tudor Dixon, real estate broker Ryan Kelley, Pastor Ralph Rebandt, businessman Kevin Rinke and chiropractor Garrett Soldano.

The winner of the GOP primary will take on Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in November.